Monday, October 22, 2007

THE BARK OF THE BOG OWL by Jonathan Rogers

Bark of the Bog Owl, by Jonathan Rogers was a book I actually thought I might not have much interest in. I was given the book to review and absolutely fell in love with the engaging story, great writing and fun characters. Can a fantasy story which lacks: dragons, elves, and magic really be so good? Oooh Yeeaah! There's plenty of action for young Aidan Errolson and his Feechie friend, Dobro Turtlebane. In fact, let me say that Dobro may be one of the most fun characters I've read about in a long time. There's nothing but page-turning-fun going on in this first book of the Wilderking trilogy. I got the first for free, but I had to go get the second and third myself and read both in two days apiece! The story stands out for its lessons on faith in the One God and for the inventive parallels with the story of young David from the bible. I highly recommend the entire series--James Somers, author: The Chronicles of Soone.


1.) Is the Bark of the Bog Owl your first novel and how long did it take you to get published?

Yes, it was my first novel. I was blessed to find a publisher very quickly. I finished Book 1--or, rather, a version of Book 1--in December of 2002, my agent started shopping it around (as Book 1 of a trilogy) shortly after the new year, and it sold in the spring. I spent part of 2003 making edits--editor Gary Terishita asked me to make the book longer by about a third--and The Bark of the Bog Owl came out in the spring of 2004. So it was a pretty whirlwind-ish process. At the time I didn't appreciate how unusual that was.

2.) Did you go through the whole submission rejection thing before finding an agent and publisher or was it a quick process for you? [this is covered in the previous answer]

3.) How did you come by the decision to make parallels with your Aidan character and King David from the Bible?

Eugene Peterson gave me a whole new way of looking at David's story. His book Leap Over a Wall demonstrates how much narrative richness there is to be mined there. Peterson has a lot to say about the "earthiness" of David's story, and that had a big impact on me...though in the end, the "earthiest" people in the book are the feechie folks, not Aidan. Peterson got me thinking about David, but I have to say, I think my story gets better the farther it strays from David's story.

4.) Feechies have to be some of the most fun characters I've read about in some time. How did you come up with Dobro Turtlebane?

One summer I worked on a construction crew with a fellow whose hobby was hunting wild hogs in the swamp--without a gun. He had some dogs that would catch the hog by the ear, and he would tie it up and carry it out of the woods on a pole. He was about as earthy a fellow as you could ever hope to meet. I filed that guy away, and ten years later when I sat down to write the Wilderking, he became Dobro Turtlebane.

5.) Most fantasy novels revolve around Dragons and Elves and stuff like that. Was there a conscious effort on your part not to include these sort of characters in your Wilderking novels, and if so, why?

Yes, I suppose you'd say I made a conscious decision not to include dragons and elves. In my very first outlines of the story, I don't think I had quite decided whether the feechiefolk would be elfish, magical creatures or just swamp people. It didn't take long for me to decide it would be more fun if the feechies were so different from "civilizers" that they just seemed magical. So feechies can disappear, but not the way an elf or a sprite disappears. They disappear the way a snake disappears. I once saw a copperhead on a leaf-strewn trail, and in the second it took me to bring it to a friend's attention, the snake just melted into the leaves. Even knowing it was there, I still couldn't see it for ten seconds or more; the camouflage was that good. That's not magic, properly speaking, but the effect was very much the same as magic.

I guess you could say I went down the path of seeing how "magical" the natural world could be, and decided that, for my purposes, it was magical enough. If you've ever been to the Okefenokee Swamp or Mammoth Cave, it's hard to picture a fantasy setting that could be more fantastic. And though I've never encountered a dragon, I suspect it would be a lot like encountering an alligator.

In he original proposal for the Wilderking, there's a swamp goblin in Book 2. My wife talked me out of it. In a world with feechiefolks and alligators, she said, what do you need with a goblin?

6.) As a writer, would you consider yourself to be very disciplined and do you outline everything prior to beginning a novel or are you a spur-of-the-moment / seat of your pants type of writer?

I always have a good idea of where a story will end before I start writing. But I give the story a lot of freedom to unfold the way it wants to unfold. I always have an outline--sometimes detailed, sometimes not--but I'm never afraid to throw out the outline. And I always expect a lot of treasures to reveal themselves after I've started writing. Here's an example: When it was time to hunker down and finish Book 3 of the trilogy, I went to my in-laws' farm in South Georgia to write. Eating supper at a restaurant, one of the locals (a man I had only met that night) sat down at my table and got to telling about a bar fight he had gotten mixed up in. Within twelve hours, a feechiefied version of that story was in the book, in the exact form it exists now. (If you've read The Way of the Wilderking, it's the scrape Aidan and Dobro get into at Ma Pearl's public house). It was never in any outline, but it's a pretty important scene in the book.

I like what Anne Lamott says about writing a book. It's like driving at night: you can't see very far ahead, but you can see far enough. You can't see around the next curve, but by the time you get there, your headlights will provide you with the illumination you need to negotiate around it.

7.) What would you say the greatest change in your writing has been since becoming published?

8.) What key piece of advice would you give to writers who are struggling to get published in today's Christian marketplace?

Hmmm...I don't know about giving advice to hypothetical people--people whose real situation I don't know. But I do have a few general remarks on the subject of publishing.

I have a cousin who builds houses, and he tells his clients, "If you weren't happy before you got a granite countertop, you probably aren't going to be happy after you get a granite countertop." Which is to say, a big, fancy house won't make your life fulfilling. Likewise, if you weren't happy before getting a book published, you probably won't be happy after getting a book published. Don't look to the things of the world to do what they can't possibly do for you. I do think that's an important thing to keep in perspective.

On a related note, we all hope our writing will have an impact on the people who read it--I know I do. But it's helpful to remember that the people we're really going to have an impact on are the people we see every day. I say that by way of encouragement. People who are "struggling to get published in today's Christian marketplace" are going through the struggle (hopefully) because they want to make a difference in people's lives. If that's your earnest desire, you can be sure you'll have opportunity to do that, whether you get published or not. If there were some way of totalling up such things, I know I've had more influence (for good or for ill) on the people God has put in my life than on everybody who has read my books put together. I realize that we're not talking about a huge number of people who have read my books, but I suspect the same would be true for most authors.

9.) What made you decide to join up with the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy blog tour?
[I'm afraid I don't have anything interesting to say on this topic: Rebecca Miller asked if I was interested, and I said yes--though I'm still not clear on what a blog tour is, exactly.]

10.) What are you working on now and should we be looking out for new novels from you in the near future? If so, can you give us a teaser to whet our appetites?

I have started a novel for grown-ups. It's neither science fiction nor fantasy, but a quiet book about a quiet life well-lived.

Thanks so much for doing the interview and for writing such an enjoyable series of novels. I look forward to reading what you come up with next.

Thanks for having me on your blog, James. It's been a pleasure.


David Mackey said...

I'll have to keep my eyes open for this book. Sounds like something my wife would enjoy.

Valerie Comer said...

i enjoyed your interview, James!

Jason said...

Good interview - enjoyable to read the "behind the scenes".

(Maybe books need to come w/a "making of" DVD. Though it probably wouldn't be terribly compelling...)

Becky said...

James, both reviews you posted re. The Wilderking Trilogy books are excellent. I agree with you that the feechiefolk are extraordinary characters. Lovable and fearsome at the same time.

Wonderful interview. You asked some excellent questions (and by now I hope Jonathan knows what a blog tour is! ;-)